Donald Trump and the crisis of elite impunity

The Russia scandal is about more than collusion. It’s also about the corruption of America’s elites.

As seemingly every national political figure not already hopelessly in the tank for President Trump rushed Monday to denounce his disastrous press conference with Russian despot Vladimir Putin, few condemnations received as much attention as this one from former CIA Director John Brennan:

John O. Brennan

Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???

133K people are talking about this

I don’t know why Trump and his team accepted, and at times actively solicited, the help of Putin and Russian intelligence in winning the 2016 election, and why they have appeared at times to actively serve Putin’s interests once in office. Maybe they were just taking whatever help they could get; maybe the pee tape is real; maybe Jon Chait’s theory is right and Trump has been a Soviet/Russian asset for three decades.

But I think I know why Trump thought it was okay to do what he did — why he could get away with it. The reason is a culture of elite impunity, where business and political leaders face absolutely no accountability for misdeeds. And it’s a culture that Brennan and many political elites like him have fostered, and from which they have personally benefited.

It’s much bigger than collusion. It encompasses many decades during which political officials have evaded accountability for broken laws and illicit foreign contacts, and business and corporate elites have skirted punishment for outright fraud. It’s a problem that, ironically, Trump hammered home in the campaign: that there’s a different set of rules for elites than for normal people. It just happens that Trump knows that because he, for decades now, has been taking advantage of elite impunity.

And unless critics are willing to target the problem of impunity, a problem in which some of them may be implicated, stuff like the Russia scandal will just keep happening, again and again.

The culture of impunity

We don’t punish white-collar criminals in this country. Not really, and certainly not by comparison to how we punish poorer, less white people for less severe offenses.

Only one Wall Street executive ever served jail time for the financial crisis. Rampant foreclosure fraud during the crisis, in which mortgage companies illegally forced millions of families from their homes on the basis of false evidence, went largely unpunished. Lanny Breuer, President Obama’s assistant attorney general for the criminal division of the Department of Justice, was so notoriously lax that Obama’s White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler once jokingly asked him, How many cases are you dismissing this week?

And no one knows how easy it is to get away with complicated financial crimes better than Donald Trump. For decades, he was able to dodge any consequences for his routine collaborations with the Mafia, even though his relationship with (to give just one example among many) the mob-linked union official John Cody prompted the FBI to subpoena Trump. His real estate businesses are routinely entangled with corrupt officials abroad, with the Trump International Hotel and Tower Baku in Azerbaijan and the Trump office towers in India looking particularly fishy. (Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, even unknowingly profiting from corrupt activities in a foreign country is a federal crime.)

And the people around him have similarly checkered histories. His longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen is, of course, currently under federal investigation from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and has been linked to various insurance fraud schemes, including one involving recent Russian immigrants falsely claiming they were hit by cars. Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. were nearly charged with fraud for their conduct in marketing the Trump SoHo hotel and condo development in 2012.

Jared Kushner is facing lawsuits for his role as a slumlord in the Baltimore area and for overcharging rent from his New York City tenants; we know that his company falsified rent control paperwork in New York. Kushner stands out among Trump’s associates in that his father is the rare person actually prosecuted for and convicted of serious financial crimes, which doesn’t seem to have made the younger Kushner any more cautious. If anything, it appears to have made him more committed to the family trade.

Donald Trump, Ivanka, Don Jr., Cohen, and Kushner aren’t under criminal indictment just yet. (Of course, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, is, and for serious financial crimes that are so far largely unrelated to his work for Trump.) Maybe it’s all just a series of awful coincidences. Or maybe they have correctly perceived that you can get away with truly massive white-collar crimes, and have lived their lives accordingly.

Political crimes are basically never punished, even with a body count

This same culture exists, perhaps to an even greater degree, for political wrongdoing. The Russia scandal should have, but largely hasn’t, reminded us that a presidential candidate has collaborated with a foreign government against the American government before, and gotten away with it.

In the summer of 1968, as biographer John A. Farrell has demonstrated, Republican nominee Richard Nixon and his aides actively sabotaged efforts by Lyndon Johnson’s administration to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. They got away with it, prolonging a war that wound up killing more than a million people in the process. It’s barely even on the list of Nixonian wrongdoing that people remember. Henry Kissinger was at the time a Johnson adviser leaking information for Nixon to use in his efforts. Today he remains a broadly respected elder statesman, even in Democratic administrations.

It wasn’t even two decades later that the next Republican administration conspired with a foreign government, namely Iran’s. This time, the actions weren’t just horrendously immoral but illegal as well; elongating the Vietnam War was, alas, not a crime, but funding the Contras with Iranian arms deal money was. So was lying to Congress about it. Fourteen members of Reagan’s administration were indicted, and 11 were convicted.

It didn’t matter. Before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six people involved, all high-ranking policy officials like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and CIA covert ops director Clair George. National Security Council official Oliver North and National Security Adviser John Poindexter had, at that point, already gotten their convictions tossed out, not because they were innocent but due to a complication resulting from Congress giving them immunity to testify.

Lawrence Walsh, appointed independent counsel to investigate Iran-Contra, would later write, “What set Iran-Contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension.”

And because the rule of law wasn’t applied, many of the perpetrators remain members in good standing of Washington’s foreign policy establishment. Poindexter returned to government to run the George W. Bush administration’s Information Awareness Office and “Total Information Awareness” program, leaving after a public controversy around a betting market he wanted to create where bettors would’ve profited if a terrorist strike occurred. Abrams, whose far worse transgressions in the Reagan years involved his support for El Salvador’s brutal military dictatorship and his efforts to cover up the El Mozote massacre, worked as a senior National Security Council official for the entirety of the George W. Bush administration.

In that administration, of course, dozens of policymakers collaborated to systematically violate US and international law forbidding torture. While low-ranking Army soldiers and officers were court-martialed in certain cases, like Abu Ghraib, the people ultimately responsible for the policy regime got away with it. John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who put together memos authorizing systematic torture of detainees without trial, escaped all prosecution. Yoo is a tenured professor at UC Berkeley. Bybee is a federal judge with life tenure.

The Obama administration not only declined to prosecute CIA officials who tortured detainees in accordance with the torture memos but failed to prosecute them even in numerous cases where those guidelines were exceeded. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop explained in 2014, the Justice Department didn’t even bother to bring charges in the cases of Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi, who were literally tortured to death.

Nor did they bring any charges against Jose Rodriguez, who authorized the destruction of 92 tapes showing the CIA torturing detainees, or against anyone who assisted Rodriguez. Gina Haspel, who Rodriguez has said drafted the order to destroy the tapes, and who ran a CIA black site for torture in Thailand, is now the director of the CIA.

Impunity means we will only get more wrongdoing

With that history — with such a clear record that neither businesspeople engaged in systematic financial wrongdoing nor political officials involved in criminal activity and illicit deals with foreign powers will ever face any consequences — why on earth wouldn’t someone like Trump, a man who lacks any willingness to sacrifice his self-interest in order to do the right thing, work with Russia? Why wouldn’t he feel okay asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails? Why would Donald Trump Jr. have any reservations at all about accepting help from the Russian government, declaring, “If it’s what you say I love it”? People like them, in their shoes, have done the same or worse before and gotten away with it. Kissinger even got a Nobel Prize.

The obvious rebuttal here is that the Trumps are different. They’re distinctly immoral, uniquely willing to fly in the face of decency and patriotic duty and basic morality to make money and gain power. They don’t need a culture of impunity to do horrible things. To which I’d respond: yes, obviously. That’s who they are. But there will always be people like that, and there will be more as long as we maintain a system that gives them total immunity from criminal or even professional consequences for their actions.

Donald Trump Jr. himself, in his typical “say the loud part quiet and the quiet part loud” way, laid all this out pretty clearly in an interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee. “What about the thing that says, ‘It is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,’” Heather Sawyer, a Democratic counsel for the committee, asked him. “Did you also love that?

“I don’t know,” Donald Jr. replied. “I don’t recall.”

“Did you understand that that would be problematic?” Sawyer pressed. Trump answered: “I didn’t think that listening to someone with information relevant to the fitness and character of a presidential candidate would be an issue, no.”

Donald Jr. was coached meticulously before that hearing, so it’s hard to read too much into what he’s saying. But I believe him. I believe he genuinely didn’t think that collaborating with the Russian government to get his father elected would be an issue.

That’s what impunity means: It means not thinking that grievous wrongdoing will one day be an issue. It helps explain why even decorated civil servants like John Brennan at best remained silent about, and at worst participated in, the CIA’s torture regime. It wasn’t an issue for him, ultimately; he eventually became director, where he could defend torturers at greater length.

But that’s exactly the problem. It should be an issue. We’ve set up a system where the baseline assumption is that nothing short of, I don’t know, full-on in-person murder can disqualify an elite political or business figure from their posting. And that means that people like the Trumps will continue to believe that criminality and collusion are just fine. Unless we’re willing to break down that system, and interrogate the role that even Trump’s enemies have played in building it, we will get two, three, many Trumps in the future.

Correction: I initially wrote that Jon Chait believes Trump has been an Russian “agent” for three decades. In fact, Chait believes that Trump “might” have been a Russian “asset” for three decades. I regret the error.

Jared Kushner Makes Trump Look Like An Idiot

Trump forgot that his family is a bunch of slumlords. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down. MORE TYT:

Read more here:… “Critics of President Donald Trump responded to his recent labeling of Elijah Cummings’ congressional district in Maryland as “disgusting” and “rodent infested” with photos of neighborhoods in Republican-controlled districts that also appeared to be rife with homelessness, poverty and waste.

Trump on Saturday railed against Cummings and Baltimore — about half of which falls in the congressman’s district — calling the city “disgusting rat and rodent infested.” Rather than decry or disavow the president’s remarks, Trump’s allies and conservative media outlets like Fox News attempted to bolster his claim by sharing photos and video of destitute and dirty portions of the Maryland metropolis. White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday he’d have been “fired” from running his former South Carolina congressional district if it had as much crime and homelessness.

But Trump critics began pointing out these images were cherry-picked and failed to tell the whole story of Baltimore or the many suburban and rural communities included in Cummings’ district, they also posted pictures of their own of neighborhoods blighted by poverty and crime.

What’s more, these photos were reportedly taken in congressional districts and states controlled by staunch Republican Trump defenders, including Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rep. Devin Nunes’ district in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Fresno.”

Jared Kushner SPEECHLESS After Reporter’s Question

Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior
adviser Jared Kushner he did a lot of
defending the president on a lot of
different topics on an interview with
Axios on HBO so let’s get right into it
because I want to show you what happened
when Kushner is asked whether he has
seen Trump do anything racist or bigoted
take a look so for the answer is no
absolutely not
you can’t not be a racist for 69 years
then run for president be a racist and
what I’ll say is that when a lot of the
Democrats call the president a racist I
think they’re doing a disservice to
people who suffer because of real racism
in this country I’m so imagine you have
the same reaction everyone else did
watching that luckily Jonathan Swan the
interviewer in this he had a pretty good
follow-up take a look was birtherism
racist um look I wasn’t really involved
in that I know you wouldn’t mm-hmm was
it racist like I said I wasn’t involved
in that I know you won mm-hmm was it
racist um look I know who the president
is and I have not seen anything in him
that is racist so again I was not
involved in that did you wish he didn’t
do that like I said I was not involved
in that that was a long time ago all
right so that’s his answer to the
follow-up I forget who did it my name is
John King who was like there was a
normal interview going on and then right
after this series of questions began
Jared forgot how to speak like how to
speak in complete sentences so hard to
lie I mean it is obviously affecting him
Jared who I didn’t think was capable of
human emotions I’m not sure I thought he
was capable of hunger maybe thirst okay
fear okay I guess that might have been
the driving factor there but like that I
just break down every single thing about
what happened there first he says that
the president was not racist for 69
years nice or however long it was right
and then suddenly is racist right but
but he has been raised
refusing to cop to that so was that
racist I wasn’t a part of this nobody
asked you you just claimed to know
everything about this man for the past
69 years yeah so were you there were you
now every single day absolutely he’s
that kind of guy and then he says it
does a disservice to people who have
suffered from actual racism which is
like an attempt at the kind of arguments
that conservatives try to make in order
to just confuse people it’s like using a
triple negative they’re just like I have
no idea what you’re saying
right but you seemed confident as you
said it but when you want to talk about
people who were actual victims of racism
how about all the people that weren’t
allowed to move into Trump buildings
because he had racist tenant policies
absolutely ridiculous I guess I don’t
know how else his son-in-law is supposed
to answer a yes or no question that
everyone knows but we have video proof
there are federal documents from of what
you’re talking about there’s a full-page
ad in The New York Times in 1989 like we
have actual proof of his racism there’s
a video of him on the campaign trail you
know so there’s actual proof but I guess
I can’t imagine his son-in-law answering
it but any other way wouldn’t it be
great if Jared was like yes thank you
finally yes he’s so racist right exactly
and then he went to dinner with George
it’s just with that relationship I
wonder how Trump can be okay with his
daughter marrying such a wiener such
like a limp wiener like that’s what it
is and the answer is probably uh he’s
from a big real estate family who did
better than mine but he’s never gonna
challenge me as the dominant figure in
my daughter’s life
great that’s I think this is the first
time I’ve really been able to figure out
what that relationship is like and all
his confidence in Jared Jared might just
be like an okay project manager but
never anything else and what we’ve seen
over and over again is that you’re okay
until you’re not he would Trump yeah so
who knows what the future holds
yeah I don’t know but I wouldn’t skip
ahead a little bit and talk about Russia
okay okay because uh he was also asked
about that infamous Rush
meeting and like just you know straight
up a flick why didn’t you report this to
the FBI why did you go why and there was
a bit of a back-and-forth it’s a I want
to show you here so the question from
swan is does it not set off some alarm
bells when you see an email that the
Russian government wants to help the
campaign Kushner says the email I got on
my iPhone said show up at 4:00 I didn’t
scroll down so on reminds him that it
had Russia in the subject line and then
still no copping to the reality of the
situation is right there you knew what
the meeting was gonna be about and so we
asked him if this happened again would
you report it to the FBI take a look at
his answer call the FBI happen again I
don’t know it’s hard to do hypotheticals
but the the reality is is that we were
not given anything that was salacious
this wouldn’t be hard for me to do
hypotheticals that is any precise
hypothetical where you say yes I would
because you’re hiding behind this
concept that you don’t know the rules
right and you’re just new to this but
the hypothetical answer should be I
would report it to the FBI it’s the
easiest thing to do unless you
consistently do get invites like this
and just don’t want to cop to that fact
right you’re right like you know that
it’ll happen again and you you know that
you won’t report it to the FBI otherwise
like I don’t see how this isn’t saying
yes immediately isn’t a good look for
the administration say yes of course we
would because we didn’t know what was
going on we had nothing to do with that
so of course we would but he doesn’t
want to answer any questions whatsoever
pursue I mean I just that moment when
they asked about the racism
yeah just like what what would you do
what I was not involved in that so you
you can’t make an assessment of
birtherism or any racist act whether it
was racist whether you wanted it to
happen whether you endorsed it because
you weren’t involved in it first of all
that’s like the tacit acknowledgement
and crappiness that allows racism to
persist because people aren’t able to
just say oh no that was bad it was
absolutely races it was absolution
absolutely racially motivated and and he
should just cop to that
thank you for watching this clip from
the damage report for more content from
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